Butler County department could permanently move to better serve residents

The coronavirus has prompted what could be a permanent change in the way people do business with Butler County Job and Family Services.

JFS Executive Direct Bill Morrison is asking the county commissioners to allow him to permanently move the lobby for his operations that are housed in the Government Services Center to the main floor of the building.

At the beginning of the pandemic Morrison move the “lobby” of his operation to the small conference room in the first floor of the GSC closest to the parking garage, to lessen the number of close-quarter elevator trips people had to take to get to JFS and Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Morrison said having the first floor access, with its own entrance to the outside, has worked well for those who need assistance.

“Probably 35 or 40 percent of all the traffic in the building is coming to our lobby,” Morrison said, adding that’s 50 to 100 people daily. “So that just diverted all that traffic to the outside entrance down there on the first floor. And the public tells us they love it being there because they can get in and out of there much quicker.”

He said he has three people staffing the makeshift lobby for people who need to drop off materials for their public assistance applications and other needs. He wants to make it permanent.

County Administrator Judi Boyko penciled in $100,000 to create the new lobby. She told the Journal-News she knows that is hefty sum and not final, but she envisions needing to make some infrastructure improvements.

“To equip that facility for a long term solution there needs to be some infrastructure upgrades,” she said. “I’m looking at some interior finishes, materials that may be more durable for the volume of clients they see.”

The commissioners discussed the issue briefly last Monday, and Commissioner Cindy Carpenter had some misgivings because Boyko is planning to use Community Development Block Grant money to pay for the new lobby.

The county has been allocated funds from three sources to pay for expenses tied to dealing with the coronavirus. The largest source provides $3.3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) money. The county was also awarded $739,290 in Community Development Block Grant money that was earmarked for COVID-19 expenses and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.

“I personally would like to see JFS look to their own budgets and their own state funding first before they ask for money that could actually be used out in the community,” Carpenter said. “I know we are providing services here of the government, but I’d like for the money that’s sent down for COVID-19 to go out to the community where we can’t find any other sources.”

Morrison told the Journal-News they checked with the state JFS office that regulates their funding and public assistance money can’t be used to pay for a new lobby.

“It can’t be done using our funds, they are restricted as to what we can bill for,” Morrison said. “We did ask the state because there’s been so many COVID programs come out it struck me that maybe there was a COVID program that would actually pay for this that we weren’t aware of. I did have Barb Fabelo our chief financial officer contact the state just to make an inquiry, and that did not bear any fruit.”

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